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Interstellar career change: From Cambridge lecturer to astronaut

Jenni Sidey. Picture: Canadian Space Agency
Jenni Sidey. Picture: Canadian Space Agency

Cambridge University lecturer Jennifer Sidey has been selected by the Canadian Space Agency and will now begin a two-year training programme at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Jennifer, a PhD mechanical engineer and combustion scientist, along with Joshua Kutryk, 35, a test pilot and lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, have been chosen to be Canada’s newest astronauts.

After a gruelling selection process, the two were selected from among 3,772 applicants and 17 finalists who answered the Canadian Space Agency’s call for astronauts last year.

Jennifer, who holds an honours bachelor degree in mechanical engineering from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a PhD in engineering from the University of Cambridge, is originally from Calgary, Alberta.

She dreamed of becoming an astronaut to advance the application of science for the benefit of society, and to inspire young people to pursue their interests in science.

In a video posted on social media shortly after the news was announced, Jennifer said: “This is a huge day, pretty exciting, but I just wanted to take a minute and make sure that I say thank you to everyone who has helped me so much over this year-long process. You guys have been incredible.

“And I’ve received so much support and so much love from my friends, my family, my partner, Chris, my employer and my mentor, and also my rugby team – you are amazing.”

Aside from her formal responsibilities, Jennifer has also acted as a role model for young women considering technical careers in science-related fields.

She is a member of the University of Cambridge Women in Engineering initiative, and a regular speaker at events aimed at promoting diversity in engineering, as well as being a role model for other young women in the engineering department.

She was recognised as the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year.

Jennifer is also the co-founder of the Cambridge chapter of Robogals, a student-run international organisation that aims to inspire and empower young women to study STEM through fun and educational initiatives. Through this work, she has worked with 3,000 young girls across the UK.

In a question and answer session with the space agency, Jennifer added: “I wanted to become an astronaut because it provides an incredible challenge.

“It aligns with my interests in the advancement and application of science for the benefit of society. It will also provide me with a platform from which I may inspire a diverse group of young people to pursue their interests in science and engineering subjects.”

Starting in August, Jennifer and Joshua will be stationed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they will go through a two-year training program that will prepare them for possible missions to the International Space Station and beyond.

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